Laughter and humour in Middle English texts

Anne M. Scott

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


Humour is notoriously difficult to define or to translate, whether from one language to another, or from one culture to another. A warm smile at a monk’s doodle about his cat; a wry chuckle at Piers Plowman’s satirical sketch of Mede’s cavalcade where Mede, Favel (Flattery), and False mount the backs of church and civil court officials as their steeds; and a giggle at Alisoun’s vulgar “Tehee” in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale are some of the responses a modern person might make to what we perceive as humour in Middle English poetry. A useful methodology for discerning the complexity of humour in the literature of the English Middle Ages is to study texts in which a medieval audience can be seen to appreciate humour. Both Boccacio and Chaucer employ the device of a frame story within which a number of narrators tell tales to each other. The audience’s reaction is recorded as part of the frame narrative; their appreciation of the humour, demonstrated in laughter or animated discussion, gives the modern reader many pointers as to what a medieval audience found amusing. Frequently, though not invariably, the medieval appreciation of humour corresponds with that of twenty-first-century readers.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHumour in the arts
Subtitle of host publicationNew perspectives
EditorsVivienne Westbrook, Shun-liang Chao
Place of PublicationAbington, Oxon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780429849893, 9780429455827
ISBN (Print)9781138314641
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

Publication series

NameStudies for the International Society for Cultural History


Dive into the research topics of 'Laughter and humour in Middle English texts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this